Five sometimes thoughtful and provocative literary essays that to some extent have been overtaken by recent events in Poland. Zagajewski rehearses the familiar conflict between a writer's need for solitude and the necessity of joining the forces that protest political oppression. When form and content match perfectly, as in ""The Little Larousse""--an essay in the form of a series of discrete meditations on literature and politics with an accent upon the dilemmas of voluntary exile and the expectations of comfort from literature--he is at his most persuasive. ""Polish culture has a communal character and it is at once splendid and painful. Awful and splendid. Every word belongs to everybody. Every silence becomes public property."" Even in essays that probably resonate with greater force within Polish society (""Sevres,"" ""The High Wall""), there are still memorable lines: ""Communism rose in Poland as a counterfeit Gothic cathedral."" Zagajewski does tend to drag in everything along with the kitchen sink: "". . .death lies in wait in even the most tranquil Swiss village. For some it has Dante's face, for others--Heidegger's."" Still, he threads a sharp needle past many of the usual pitfalls of such writing to stitch further insightful lines: ""Murder mystery novels are impossible here: everyone always knows who the guilty party is--the state."" A final essay, ""Flamenco,"" begins as a report on Carlos Saura's film Carmen, and ends with thoughts on the sort of city a poet should live in. Zagajewski is the author, in Polish, of three novels, three collections of essays, and four volumes of poetry (Tremors: Selected Poems appeared here in 1985). On the basis of these essays, the translation of at least one novel is in order.